Bob’s Whitlam song wins Alistair Hulett award

Bob Wilson’s song, When Whitlam took his turn at the wheel, is the 2022 recipient of the Alistair Hulett Songs for Social Justice Award.

The award was presented at the closing concert at the National Folk Festival in Canberra on Easter Monday. Bob was unable to attend so deputised Ross Clark to accept the award on his behalf. The concert was live streamed to a large audience to raise money for the UNHCR in Ukraine.

We affectionately refer to the song as “Whitlam”, a summary of the many social policies and new laws enacted by Gough Whitlam in the first months of his election on December 2, 1972.

Whitlam introduced free healthcare and free tertiary education, abolished conscription and took the last of our troops out of Vietnam. Whitlam introduced a new Family Law act; no fault divorce and an associated single parent’s pension which made it possible for people to leave bad marriages. He abolished capital punishment, started drafting land rights for indigenous Australians and, as the song says, was the first PM to lavish money on the arts.

Bob wrote the song late last year after realising there is a whole generation in Australia who probably take these social initiatives for granted.

Listen to the song here:

The Alistair Hulett award is now in its 12th year. It was started in 2011 after the Scots-born Australian songwriter died in 2010. A fund was established to perpetuate an annual event where songwriters could submit works which fit the theme of social justice. Previous recipients include two other Queenslanders – Paddy McHugh (2015) and Karen Law (2020 in a dead-heat with Newcastle songwriter John Sutton).

We were hiking in Tasmania when we got the news (about to walk around Dove Lake)

The song was recorded at Restless Music studios in Stanthorpe by Roger Ilott. Musicians on the track include Roger (banjo and mandolin) his brother Tony (bass), Laurel Wilson (vocals), Bob Wilson (guitar and vocals) and Mal Webb (brass).

As per the terms of the ‘grant’ which comes with the award, Bob is planning a limited release CD by The Goodwills which will contain “Whitlam” and some of our more recent songs. The award brief is to ‘disseminate the song” so you may well see sponsored Facebook posts and other promotions in the following months.

If you happen to be at Brisbane’s acoustic music venue, The Bug, on May 24 (New Farm Bowls Club), we’ll sing the song for you.



Armageddon out of here

The Almost Armageddon Waltz by Bob Wilson

Here’s an anti-war anthem I wrote in 1979-1980 when Russia invaded
Afghanistan. Then as now, people were terrified it would lead to nuclear war. Instead it led to a futile, nine-year battle between the State of Afghanistan and Russia against the guerrilla group Mujahideen.

The song won an award and I was invited to Longford in Tasmania to
sing it at a folk festival. The lyrics and sheet music were published in a
long-defunct magazine called Stringybark and Greenhide. Anyway, this
is the only known recording of the song, from the live album, Little Deeds (1998), which is no longer in circulation.
As I said in the intro, this song is so old it refers to the Holden
Kingswood as the family car. I always meant to update it, add a contemporary verse or two but it never quite gelled.

I’m chuffed that Eric Bogle has seen fit to keep the theme going in 2022 with his song, The Armageddon Waltz, from the new album, The Source of Light.
It’s a lament for all the things we have lost and are yet to lose to climate change. And as is the Bogle way of never obscuring the message, the refrain is “it’s the Armageddon Waltz, folks, and were all going to die.”
Good one, Eric.

The Last Waterhole on TradandNow

The question Bob gets asked most about this song is – “Is there a book called The Theory of Control”? The title track from our most recent studio album was included on the compilation CD, Pick of the Crop 8, produced by the national folk music publication, TradandNow.

Featuring the exquisite fiddle playing of Silas Palmer.

Goodwills launch new song about Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam in China, image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia, CC.

We chose November 11 (Remembrance Day), to launch a new song about the achievements (and setbacks) of Gough Whitlam, our most controversial politician. The 11th marks the 46th anniversary of The Dismissal, when the Queen’s representative, John Kerr, sacked Whitlam and installed a caretaker government under Malcolm Fraser. The dramatic events of 1975 greatly overshadowed the many reforms Gough Whitlam introduced, including free education, free healthcare, no-fault divorce, a single parent’s pension and legal aid. He also ditched conscription and capital punishment and finalised the end of our involvement in the Vietnam War. And, as the photo indicates, he was the first Australian PM to visit China. Many people our age reflect on the Whitlam years as the only time in their adult lives they actually wanted to vote for someone. Unlike most politicians, Whitlam stated clearly what he wanted to do, won the election and then set out to do it all, and then more.

He abolished conscription and capital punishment and made a point of releasing seven men who had been in jail for refusing to go to Vietnam. And, as chronicled in the outstanding song by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, he started the process of Aboriginal land rights. Whitlam’s government had the misfortune to be taking the wheel at the time when the economy was going bad; there was inflation and massive unemployment. The global oil crisis did nothing to soothe the people who saw Whitlam as a dangerous maverick.  The song includes the downside so is not quite a hagiography, although I did admire the man for allowing me and my peers the chance of a free tertiary education.

Bob Wilson

Have a listen to the song here and if so inclined, add it to your music collection.

‘Well may we say God save the Queen…’

Three Score and Ten

The author in 1977, reflecting on mortality and the biblical life span, still 41 years away.

We do take a while to get around to recording songs. Bob wrote this for his 70th (in 2018). The subject material is of course realising you have lived your biblical life – three score (sixty) and ten. As we all know people can and do live well into their 90s now and we know a few who made 100 or more. You can listen to the song by following this link to Bandcamp. If you like it, download it for $1.

This is one of those songs which have gone out of style – a man and a woman having a conversation. Think  ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ (Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren) or ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, written by Frank Loesser to sing with his then wife, Lynn Garland.

Three Score and Ten is one of a series of songs we have been recording with Roger Ilott at Restless Music near Stanthorpe. Roger’s been doing some collaborating with his brother Tony who lives in New South Wales. Like us, their forward plans have been thwarted by Covid-19 and restrictions on movement. Nonetheless it is possible to complete recording projects by remote control.

Bob dug out an ancient photo of himself posing with a statue in Paris, circa 1977. As he recalls, “I put the camera on a tripod, set the self-timer then ran like hell”.

By the way this song in no way resembles the folk ballad of the same name about a maritime tragedy, as sung by The Dubliners.

The Pearl – a folk ballad about a tragedy on the Brisbane River

The Pearl, image courtesy of the State Library of Queensland

Sometimes it takes years for a song to rise to the surface. I first read about The Pearl when the late journalist, Ken Blanch, wrote an account in the Sunday Mail. I wondered why nobody had written a song about that, but then went on to other things. The Pearl came to grief on a February evening in 1896. The river was in flood and the ferry was swept by the current into the anchor chain of The Lucinda, which was moored in the river. The Pearl capsized and was torn apart by the impact. As the lyrics say, the death tally was never known, but it remains among Australia’s worst ferry accidents. The song is based on newspaper reports of the day and also from talking to historians who have researched the story. The leaps of imagination are all down to me. As usual, the unreliable narrator (me) has the last word, casting himself as a character in an otherwise true story.

Those with an interest in this topic can find accounts of the time at the State Library of Queensland. Historian Paul Seto has also written a book about The Pearl.

Underneath the Story Bridge online

Bob Wilson on location, photo by Giulio Saggin

Well it only took 20 years or so to put my most popular song online. We recorded Underneath the Story Bridge in late 1999 on a seven-song EP which also contained covers, problematic when wanting to post music online. Along came Bandcamp which lets you post ‘singles’ Underneath the Story Bridge uses the device Randy Newman calls ‘the unreliable narrator’, that is, the narrator is a character, not me!

The original EP, Courting the Net, is now out of print although both songs were included on the Australia all Over collection, Macca’s Top 100.

We have plans to include both songs on a collection, Goodwills by Request. There are at least six or more new and unpublished songs which could be on this recording, which is, like Covid-19, a work in progress.

You can find the song here and download it for $1 (or more if you are expecting a tax return).

Bob Wilson, July 1, 2021

The Augmented Goodwills at Red Hill Folk

The Goodwills at Neurum Creek Festival, photo by Paul Brandon.

Our third gig for 2021 is a guest spot at Brisbane’s famous Red Hill Folk Club on Wednesday June 16.  The venue is the Red Hill Community Sports Centre, 22 Fulcher Rd, Red Hill, starting at 7:30pm.  Entry $5, free supper, fully licensed, easy parking.

The evening starts and ends with with chalk board artists each performing three or four items. The Goodwills, including  singer/fiddler Helen Rowe, are on about 8.30, after supper .

During the Covid hiatus we have been keeping a low profile. yet beavering away at new songs at our new home in Warwick.We have recorded  a c0uple of new songs with Roger Ilott at the Restless Music studio on the Granite Belt, with plans for more in the near future.

We last performed as a trio at a garden concert at a friend’s property in Pine Mountain. On June 6 we are performing as a duo at a picnic lunch organised by the Southern Downs Refugee and Migrant Network. The lunch is to mark the recent decision by the Southern Downs Regional Council to declare the local government area a Refugee Welcome Zone.

For those who have not heard us before, we are a husband and wife duo (Bob and Laurel Wilson) who have been performing together for 35+ years. We usually perform Bob’s original songs. He plays guitar and harmonicas and sings lead or provides tenor harmonies to Laurel’s vocals. Her  performances on the kazoobugle (her own invention) are delightful. These days we are often joined  by outstanding Brisbane singer/songwriter Helen Rowe, who plays fiddle and adds alto harmonies to the mix.

Our music has been described as “eclectic, fun and occasionally deeply touching”. Songs can range from a zany exploration of famous people named Paul to touching stories about migration (Impressions of New Zealand) and refugees (Get the Kids Off Nauru). In addition to originals, we explore a wide variety of styles through a range of blues, jazz,  country and  folk  by songwriters we admire. 

Red Hill Folk is one of those rare listening venues where performers sing without amplification. Mine host Anne Infante ensures singers (and poets) get a good hearing.  The club now uses the larger function room so there are plenty of seats and space to observe Covid social distancing.

Kerosene Tin Hut – a new song from The Goodwills

In the depression years, poverty and homelessness drove people to build shelters on common land, often on the outskirts of towns. Inventive Aussies cut kerosene tins into tiles and stapled them together over a sapling framework. The huts would often be lined with animal skins and/or hessian soaked in lime. Over the villages would develop, its residents sharing a tap and a community garden. There is a replica hut in the historical village at Morven between Roma and Charleville. If you are driving through, check it out

To listen to the song and download it, visit our Bandcamp site:

Since posting the song to Bandcamp we have also released a DIY video of us performing the song inside the kerosene tin hut. You can find it on our video page or here.